A grander design
The Discovery Sport is good looking and capable but not without niggles
YOU have to try really hard, even in the modern world, to get further from Australia than Iceland.
I have been twice, first to drive a Volkswagen Golf in the heat of summer and then to drive the new Land Rover Discovery Sport in the depths of winter.
The old Golf was good in Iceland and good, but not great, at home.
The Disco felt great in the snow and on ice, and even driving down a river with mini icebergs. How will it perform at home? I jump into a SD4 diesel for some family time.
I should confess my dislike for the mid-sized SUV that the Discovery Sport replaces. The Freelander, even after the improvements for the Mark II, was way too cramped, oldfashioned and underwhelming.
So the newcomer already has a head start, without worrying about an all-new approach to the family needs of people who probably love the look of a Range Rover Evoque but need more practicality and carrying capacity.
“I think we’ve got the right car in the right space,” says Jaguar Land Rover boss Matthew Wiesner.
“The market ultimately determines if our position is right. The 1000 customers in the order bank seem to confirm that we’ve got it right.”
What they want is a new-age SUV from the historic British brand, with genuine off-road capability (even if they don’t use it) and a roomier cabin, more technology and greater comfort.
It’s a very crowded field — it takes in the Audi Q5 and the Volvo XC60, going alphabetically, and includes such disparate contenders as the BMW X4, Jeep Cherokee and Subaru Forester — yet the new Land Rover clearly makes some impressive claims.
The comfortable ride that impressed in Iceland carries
over, as do the turbo diesel shove and the classy cabin layout. The optional five-plus-two cabin — as in the original Discovery — has a pair of “occasional” seats as the third row.
There are the nasties, too. Even for a diesel, the engine noise is far too intrusive, the automatic transmission is a $2500 option and there’s no capped-price service plan, even though one is now in place at Jaguar.
The solution to the engine noise is at hand with the coming of JLR’s new-generation Ingenium diesels. There is clatter at idle and it’s too noisy generally at highway speed for an all-new model in 2015.
Wiesner defends the automatic cost by citing the nine-speed self-shifter’s technology. Do prestige buyers really even consider a manual? The starting price is reasonable at $53,300 but that should include the auto.
So, back on the road. The suspension is cushy but supportive and the switchable driveline enables serious offroading. It’s also good for towing.
The cabin is roomy with great outward vision. The shape of the seat and the dashboard layout earn extra admiration.
Another niggle: the Meridian audio in the test car can’t be linked to the latest satnav and that means the loading is too slow and clunky. Once again, JLR says a fix is coming.
Wiesner says the shortcomings are being addressed as a priority although the Ingenium diesels might be 12 months away.
He says buyers are coming from various rivals and segments. “What we have been watching very carefully is where our customers have been coming from, what they were driving. We are seeing a strong flow from the Asian brands, in quite a broad mix from Toyota to Subaru to Mazda, with Volkswagen in there as well,” he says.
“We’re pulling people up (to this segments). Design is working for us. It’s a lot more appealing than Freelander.”
The Discovery Sport copes easily with carrying bikes and other youngster kit. It’s a good drive and pretty good value.
It also steps well away from potential rivals such as the BMW X3 because it is so much more capable. Its good looks tap into the Evoque styling but provide much more rear legroom and far better rear access.
So it’s stylish, comfortable and fuss-free. It also completely erases unpleasant memories of the Freelander.
I’ve already recommended the Discovery Sport to some good friends and one is extremely happy after taking delivery of his new family bus. So that means, even with a few niggles at home, it gets The Tick.